With the last snowfall for the season behind us (fingers crossed), you probably won’t be lighting any warming fires for the next eight months. But before you start celebrating, consider performing a routine maintenance check on your fireplace, chimney and flue to ensure it’s in tip-top shape for next winter. It’s a dirty job, but fireplaces and chimneys are involved in 42 percent of all home-heating fires, so a preventative annual inspection should definitely be on your spring-cleaning list.
First, if you have a regular wood-burning fireplace, remove all the old ashes with a shovel and bucket and get rid of any residual materials with an industrial vacuum or heavy-duty hand broom and dustpan. It’s important to note that during winter you never want ashes to accumulate to more than two inches in depth. Also, remember that ashes are just disintegrated wood, so feel free to discard them into your compost pile. Once the ashes are cleared, you can remove any soot and fire stains with a spray bottle of soapy water and a tough, wire scrub brush. If stains are really stuck on there, a muriatic acid solution will do the job, which is available at most hardware stores.
Once your fireplace is squeaky clean, it’s time to inspect the flue. Look up the fireplace, inspecting for any cracks or damage. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for creosote build-up, which can be highly flammable and result in chimney fires if not removed properly. If you see any blockage, cracks or deposits during a visual inspection, you’ll want to get the flue looked at by a professional.
Now comes the hardest part – the chimney. Firstly, make sure that you are comfortable on a roof and using a ladder. If you aren’t, leave this part of the job to an expert. Look around your chimney and remove any leaves or debris that may have piled up over the winter. If your chimney is open and you don’t use it often, it can be a great nesting place for birds and small animals. Don’t let this happen; invest in a wire screen cover to ensure nothing from the outside can get in. Also, take a look at the mortar between the bricks to make sure it is in good condition and nothing is cracking or crumbling. If mortar needs to be replaced, remove the damaged segments and re-pack them with weather resistant ready-mixed mortar from the hardware store.
You’ll also want to inspect your flashing, which is where the chimney meets the roof. This should create a watertight seal, so make sure nothing looks loose or like it’s coming undone, otherwise you could be at risk for a leak. If the seal is at all damaged or wearing away, you’ll want to get it repaired immediately.
I can’t reinforce enough that chimney maintenance is a must, and something that shouldn’t be brushed off. If you don’t know what to look for or aren’t comfortable taking on the job, get a certified chimney sweep to give you a thorough inspection. The peace of mind in knowing that your home is safe from preventable fire hazard is worth the price of a simple assessment.